Finding Roots: Carolina Chocolate Drops in Concert


This post is about the superb show last Tuesday by the Carolina Chocolate Drops and openers Birds of Chicago and David Wax Museum. But I would be remiss if I did not first acknowledge that last week, the world of folk music lost two beloved artists: singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester and Brown Bird’s David Lamb. Newspapers have eulogized Winchester as “a honey-voiced singer who wrote thoughtful songs with deep Southern roots[,] . . . plain-spoken and succinct,” and a “tunesmith of lyrical, sensitive ballads.”

Less well-known but no less admired by friends and fans was David Lamb, half of the indie-folk duo Brown Bird. A tribute concert for Lamb, held last week in the band’s home base of Providence, Rhode Island, drew, by one estimate, a thousand people. The tattooed troubadours (as NPR dubbed them), who toured last year with Trampled By Turtles, mixed American folk with eastern European rhythms, crafting songs both haunting and high-spirited.

I will leave the tributes to the professionals and simply remark on the enduring power of music — including the music of these two men — to remind us of home and propel us through tough times. Louisiana-born and Memphis-reared Jesse Winchester wrote “Mississippi, You’re On My Mind” in Canada, where he had moved to avoid the draft. The song conveys a yearning for the south he left behind — not sugar-coated and romanticized, yet romantic in its embrace of the tumbledown, ramshackle parts of the place that was home: I think I hear a noisy old John Deere in a field / Specked with dirty cotton lint, and beyond that Field runs a little country creek, and there you’ll Find the cool green leaves of mint.

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The Head & The Heart: Another Story


The Head and the Heart was the first show I saw in D.C. In my first few months here, my homesickness made me come across to some as a snobbish New Yorker. But I didn’t (and I don’t) think New York is superior. I simply missed the feverish pace, the verticality of the concrete and steel, and the tidal waves of humanity that surrounded me with faces and stories, and made me feel less alone and more a part of a story in the making. When a new coworker (and now one of my besties) introduced me to The Head and the Heart (THATH), I found it to be the perfect new music for someone looking for home.

The Seattle folk-rock band takes the melancholy of Americana and gives it an injection of upbeat, propulsive energy with Tyler Williams’ dynamic drumming and Kenny Hensley’s bright keyboard counterpoints. The themes of their songs are not expansive, but there’s a depth and soulfulness to the music that penetrates the heart. Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, and Charity Rose Thielen weave their voices together in sweet, sad harmonies about leaving home and looking for home, about friends who part ways, and about realizing that we were always already home where we feel loved.

I saw The Head and the Heart at Ram’s Head (Baltimore, MD) in March 2012 and at the 9:30 Club in June of the same year. At the time, they had just one album out. I was hooked by the delicacy of “Winter Song,” the sing-along vibrancy of “Lost In My Mind,” the foreboding keyboard intro to “Ghosts,” and the gorgeousness in the high register of Charity’s voice, almost wailing in homesickness, in “Rivers and Roads” (there’s a reason why the audience cheers when she belts out those lines).

THATH, 9:30 Club

I liked THATH so much that I was nervous about their second album–what if, after a debut that delivered song after lovely song, THATH had exhausted their creative reservoirs and what follows, disappoints? And so when “Let’s Be Still,” the band’s sophomore effort, arrived in my mailbox last month, I stared at the album photos with some trepidation before popping the CD in.

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Kodaline: Love Like This


After equivocating between summer and fall for the past few weeks, autumn weather has finally descended on D.C. As Colin Nissan puts it, “there’s a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant f*ing squash.” Decorative gourds and plaid shirts aside, I love this season because I get to listen to new releases. October got off to a good start with Kodaline’s debut album.

Since the release of “In A Perfect World” (June in Europe, October in North America), Kodaline has been dazzling crowds on both sides of the pond. I first encountered their music last spring when they opened for The Airborne Toxic Event at the 9:30 Club. At the end of the set, frontman Steve Garrigan humbly thanked the audience for listening “even though you’ve never heard of us.” Well lads, for those of us who didn’t know you then, we certainly know you and love your music now.

My note about Kodaline from May 2013 (scrawled above the Airborne guitar pick that landed at my feet): "Gotta keep an eye on them!"
My note about Kodaline from May 2013 (scrawled above the Airborne guitar pick that landed at my feet): “Gotta keep an eye on them!”

While the critics have not been as enthusiastic as the fans, my philosophy on album reviews goes something like this: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. . . . [But] in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” (Yes, I’m quoting from “Ratatouille” — because it’s brilliant.)

The Dublin-based quartet displays a versatility in their first album and an ability to craft hook after hook that the critics ought to pay closer attention to before dismissing the band’s music as mundane, post-Bono/Chris Martin alt-rock.

For example, the folk-tinged “Love Like This” opens with harmonica and mandolin and includes lovely “ooh-ooh-ooh” harmonies, broken by a spoken aside that Steve tosses off in a rakish manner, the ghost of a smile lifting the corners of his lips: “I know that love like this won’t last forever / But I, I don’t really mind, I don’t really mind at all.” I love the hush at 3:03 when the instruments drop out and Steve’s a capella delivery captures the loneliness described in the preceding verse: “It grows dark but you don’t mind / Hiding in the back streets, yeah, you’ll never notice me.” Then the full acoustic accompaniment rejoins to propel us onward to the end of the song.

“Love Like This” is perfect for fall, when my relationship with the weather is sort of like the fling described in the song. The gorgeous colors and scents of autumn will inevitably be displaced by winter, but I don’t mind that this lovely weather is only temporary. What we have is now, and as Steve has remarked about this song, “it’s kind of about relationships [that are] not really going anywhere, but you just go with it anyway.”

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